People in selected parts of San Francisco may soon be able to use autonomous food delivery services according to a recent CNN online news article. The joint venture between General Motors’ Cruise Automation and Door Dash has resulted in this food delivery service using self-driving cars. The service will operate only in the areas of the city where Cruise’s prototype self-driving cars already roam.
Select DoorDash customers will be able to order groceries or meals from restaurants using the service. There will also be a “safety driver” on board during the tests to take over in case of an emergency. In a joint statement DoorDash and Cruise said that they will evaluate operational and safety aspects of automated delivery programs from this test service.
According to reports from a DoorDash blog post the pilot will commence in March. The Modus operandi being that runners will load deliveries into cars, and customers will be notified when a car is approaching their address in order to pick up their food. The exact method of how customers will pick up the deliveries from the self driving cars is being finalised.
Cruise’s existing fleet of Chevrolet Bolt EV test cars will serve as delivery vehicles. Reports from The Verge estimate that Cruise currently has 180 cars registered with the California Department of Motor Vehicles; however the exact number that will be a part of this project has not been divulged by the company.
Cruises’ current license allows it to explore an alternative way to commercialize its autonomous driving tech in California for a delivery service only and not for passengers ferrying yet. There is stiff competition in this segment from several other companies as well. So, Cruise should be able to monetize its success in autonomous delivery soon.
Market speculations suggest that Autonomous driving is one area GM is expected to redirect funds to after major cuts in-house. Cruise has also recently bagged sizeable investments from Honda and Japan’s SoftBank. With funds pouring in, Cruise will need to demonstrate that it can recoup the investment.
Amongst other companies working on autonomous delivery vehicles- Ford has used its prototype self-driving cars as pizza delivery vehicles and startup Nuro is operating a grocery-delivery pilot program in Arizona. The Toyota e-Palette and Mercedes-Benz Vision Urbanetic concepts were designed to switch between carrying passengers and cargo.
Rather than being sold to individual owners, the first production self-driving cars is more likely be deployed in fleets. Recently launched by Waymo in Arizona launched test ride-hailing services; however, delivery services seem to be a more attractive alternative as of now. Given current public ambivalence toward autonomous cars service providers are hoping for customers to warm up to the concept soon.